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Australian Refugee Foundation
Refugee Week

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Australia ignores UN call for action on statelessness

As the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Statelessness Convention, stateless people in Australia have little to celebrate. Read more here.

Refugee Welcome Zone initiative reaches its century

RCOA's Refugee Welcome Zone initiative has reached a milestone with more than 100 councils signing on. Read more here.

National Party's call for more refugee places a positive step

RCOA has backed calls by the Government's Coalition partner the National Party for an expanded Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Read more here.

Australian Parliament must reject cruel Temporary Protection Visas

RCOA has written to Federal cross-bench parliamentarians, urging them to reject the Abbott Government's renewed push to force refugees on to Temporary Protection Visas. Read more here.

Australia must step up to support Syrian refugees

News that the number of Syrian refugees has passed three million confirms that Australia's decision to cut its refugee program could not have come at a worse time, says RCOA. Read more here.

Grave fears for asylum seeker forcibly returned to Afghanistan

News that the Australian Government has forcibly repatriated an Afghan asylum seeker has been met with alarm by RCOA. Read more here.

No excuse for ongoing detention of children

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has failed to offer an adequate justification for the ongoing detention of children on Christmas Island and Nauru, says RCOA. Read more here.

Efforts to return Syrian refugees unconscionable

RCOA is alarmed by media reports that Syrian asylum seekers detained on Manus Island are being pressured by Australian Government officials to return home. Read more here.

Time to end detention of children once and for all

RCOA welcomed the announcement that children would be moved out of closed detention on the mainland but expressed concern about children remaining in detention on Christmas Island and Nauru. Read more here.

Government must stop deception and do more to protect Iraqis

The Australian Government must stop trying to deceive Australians about its recent cuts to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program and start acting to increase protection options for Iraqi and Syrian refugees. Read more here.

Welfare system review needs greater focus on humanitarian entrants

The Federal Government review of Australia's welfare system must pay more attention to addressing barriers faced by refugees and humanitarian entrants. Read more here.

Government removes Refugee Council's core funding

The Australian Government has completely cut core funding to RCOA despite allocating $140,000 just two weeks ago in its 2014-15 Budget. Read more here.

UN High Commissioner criticises Australia's 'strange' obsession with boats

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has described as "very strange" Australia's obsession with deterring asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Read more here.

Cambodian NGOs unite in opposition to Australia's refugee deal

RCOA has welcomed a joint statement issued by a coalition of 21 Cambodian NGOs who oppose the planned refugee resettlement deal between Cambodia and Australia. Read more here.

Federal Budget summary 2014-15

RCOA has released a summary of refugee-related spending in the 2014-15 Federal Budget. Read more here.

 

Post-compulsory education and training pathways for refugee young people

This report brings together evidence of good practice in the provision of education and training that meet the needs of refugee young people.

 

Hoax e-mails

The circulation of myths and misinformation is one of the biggest barriers to understanding the issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers. There are currently several hoax e-mails in circulation which contain blatantly false information about refugees and asylum seekers. They are intended to create resentment towards refugees and fuel disharmony.

This page aims to highlight some common hoax e-mails about refugees and asylum seekers and correct the record for people seeking accurate information.

RCOA recommends that anyone receiving these hoax e-mails should delete them and inform the person who forwarded the email that the information they contains is false.

Click on the links below to find out the truth behind these hoax e-mails.

The Centrelink benefits e-mail

For a number of years, an e-mail has been in circulation claiming that refugees receive more money from Centrelink than age pensioners. This e-mail originated in Canada and its claims are completely false. In October 2007, RCOA issued a media release calling on Australians to ignore this blatantly inaccurate e-mail. A statement refuting the e-mail’s claims was also issued by the Department of Immigration. Unfortunately, however, it has continued to circulate.

Myth: Refugees can receive social security payments simply because they are refugees.
Fact: Refugees receive the same social security benefits as everyone else.

A refugee who has permanent residency in Australia receives exactly the same social security benefits as any Australian citizen or eligible permanent resident in the same circumstances. Refugees apply for social security through Centrelink like everyone else and are assessed for the different payment options in the same way as everyone else.

The two-year waiting period for Centrelink eligibility which applies to other newly arrived permanent residents is waived for refugees and humanitarian entrants, in recognition of the fact that (unlike other migrants) they often arrive in Australia with few or no financial resources. However, Centrelink payments are calculated at exactly the same rate for both refugees and non-refugees and there are no separate Centrelink allowances that people can receive simply by virtue of being a refugee.

Myth: Refugees living in Australia receives a larger weekly allowance from Centrelink than age pensioners.
Fact: A single person with no dependent children applying for the Newstart Allowance (whether or not he or she is a refugee) receives over $250.00 LESS per fortnight than a single age pensioner.

A single person with no dependent children who is eligible for the Newstart Allowance (whether or not he or she is a refugee) will receive $501.00 per fortnight, whereas a single person on an Age Pension payment will receive a fortnightly payment of $751.70. A single age pensioner therefore receives around $250.00 more per fortnight than a single refugee (or a single Australian citizen or permanent resident) who qualifies for the Newstart Allowance.

Australian citizens and permanent residents with dependent children on lower to middle incomes (including refugees) may also be eligible to receive Family Tax Benefits or Parenting Payments. However, none of these allowances are paid at a higher rate than the single age pension.

All of the figures quoted in the e-mail are fabricated. For instance, a single person on an age pension receives a fortnightly payment of $751.70, not $253.00 per week as claimed in the e-mail.

Myth: Refugees receive higher rates of payment under Centrelink programs than other Australians.
Fact: Centrelink payments are calculated at exactly the same rate for both refugees and non-refugees.

For instance, a single Australian citizen and a single refugee with no dependent children on the Newstart Allowance would both receive exactly the same fortnightly payment of $501.00.

Myth: Asylum seekers can receive Centrelink payments.
Fact: Asylum seekers are not entitled to the same forms of financial support as citizens or permanent residents.

The Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (ASAS) provides assistance to asylum seekers living in the community who are experiencing financial hardship. ASAS offers income support to cover basic living expenses, paid at 89 per cent of the Centrelink Special Benefit (which is usually paid at the same rate as the Newstart Allowance). This equates to around $446.00 per fortnight, or around $300.00 less than the single age pension.

Myth: Illegal immigrants can receive Centrelink payments.
Fact: Only Australian citizens and permanent residents can receive social security payments from Centrelink and illegal immigrants are certainly not entitled to such support.

It is also factually incorrect to refer to either refugees or asylum seekers as “illegal immigrants”. Recognised refugees in Australia by definition hold either a Refugee Visa or a Protection Visa, both of which entitle the holder to permanent residency. While asylum seekers who arrive by boat are often referred to as "illegal arrivals", they do not in fact break any Australian laws simply by arriving without authorisation.

Please note that the figures on Centrelink payment rates quoted above are current as at February 2014 and are subject to change. For the latest payment rates, visit http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/dhs/centrelink.  

The “border crossings” e-mail

This hoax e-mail lists the penalties for illegally crossing the national borders of a series of countries. The penalties include hard labour, indefinite detention, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance. The e-mail then goes on to claim that persons who cross the Australian border illegally receive a range of benefits, including welfare payments which are higher than those received by Australian age pensioners. The claims made in the e-mail are blatantly false.

Myth: “If you cross the Afghan border illegally, you get shot” (and so on).
Fact: The list of penalties for illegally crossing the border has been fabricated and has no basis in law.

What is perhaps most troubling about this e-mail is the implication that practices such as arbitrary arrest and detention and extrajudicial killing are suitable penalties for crossing a border without a visa, or appropriate methods for dealing with unauthorised migration. Such practices would represent gross violations of human rights.

Myth: Asylum seekers who cross national borders without valid papers are breaking the law.
Fact: Asylum seekers do not break any Australian laws simply by arriving on boats or without authorisation.

Although asylum seekers arriving by boat are commonly referred to as "illegal arrivals", this is factually incorrect. .

Myth: Asylum seekers, upon their arrival in Australia, are “given” a job, an interpreter, a driver’s license, a social security number, welfare payments and credit cards.
Fact: Asylum seekers are not automatically "given" any of these things upon arrival.

Asylum seekers do not have the same entitlements as Australian citizens or permanent residents. Some asylum seekers who are living in the community may be eligible for financial assistance if they are experiencing financial hardship, but they do not receive this automatically - they must apply for financial assistance and meet the eligibility requirements. Asylum seekers in detention do not receive any form of financial assistance.

If an asylum seeker is recognised as a refugee and granted a Protection Visa, they become eligible for the same benefits as other Australian permanent residents. However, refugees are not “given” a job, a driver’s licence, welfare payments and credit cards. They must apply for them and meet eligibility requirements just like any other permanent resident. Their refugee status does not entitle them to preferential treatment.

The e-mail also claims that refugees are entitled to a “social security number”; there is no such thing as a “social security number” in Australia.

Myth: Refugees and asylum seekers receive higher rates of payment under Centrelink programs than age pensioners or other Australians.
Fact: Centrelink payments are calculated at exactly the same rate for both refugees and non-refugees.

Indeed, refugees are not entitled to financial assistance simply by virtue of being refugees. They are only entitled to the same forms of assistance as other permanent residents.

Asylum seekers (i.e. people whose applications for refugee status are still being assessed) are not entitled to the same forms of financial support as citizens or permanent residents. Some asylum seekers who are living in the community may be eligible for financial assistance if they are experiencing financial hardship, but the assistance received is well below any form of Centrelink benefit including the age pension.

For further information, see our response to the hoax e-mail on Centrelink benefits.

Myth: This e-mail has been endorsed by Mr Maurice Kriss, a Sydney-based Barrister at Law.
Fact: This e-mail has not been endorsed by Mr Kriss.

RCOA contacted Mr Kriss and he informed us that the e-mail did not originate from his office. Evidently the sender has simply used Mr Kriss’ name to add credibility to the e-mail.

The “win a free house” e-mail

This e-mail parodies the act of seeking asylum in Australia, likening it to a game show in which asylum seekers can win “prizes” such as a free house. Not only is this e-mail completely inaccurate, it grossly trivialises the suffering and persecution experienced by refugees.

Myth: Refugees and asylum seekers receive “all expenses paid” accommodation in Australia.
Fact: Refugees and asylum seekers do not receive free accommodation.

Asylum seekers living in the community must find their own accommodation, while those who do not hold a valid visa are detained while their applications are being processed.

Refugees must seek out and pay for accommodation on the same basis as other Australian permanent residents. They do not automatically receive preferential treatment in the housing market simply by virtue of their refugee status.

Myth: Refugees and asylum seekers receive cash benefits starting at $800.00 per week.
Fact: A refugee who has permanent residency in Australia is entitled to exactly the same social security benefits as any Australian citizen or permanent resident in the same circumstances - which are nowhere near $800.00 per week.

For example, a single person with no dependent children who is eligible for the Newstart Allowance (whether or not he or she is a refugee) will receive $501.00 per fortnight. Additionally, refugees do not receive cash payments as part of the settlement services provided under the Humanitarian Settlement Services program or the Settlement Grants Program.

Some asylum seekers are eligible for financial support under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (ASAS), which provides support to asylum seekers experiencing financial hardship. The ASAS offers income support to cover basic living expenses, paid at 89 per cent of the Centrelink Special Benefit (which is usually paid at the same rate as the Newstart Allowance).

Myth: Anyone can seek asylum, provided they don’t hold a valid Australian Passport.
Fact: Anyone can seek asylum, regardless of their nationality.

Australian citizens cannot seek asylum in Australia because a refugee is, by definition, a person fleeing persecution who is outside their country of origin. An Australian citizen can, however, seek asylum in any country of which they are not a citizen.

The e-mail appears to be implying that asylum seekers who arrive without valid travel documents are acting illegally or trying to "rort the system". In fact, Australian law permits entry into Australia without a visa for the purposes of seeking asylum. Furthermore, the majority of asylum seekers who arrive without a visa have been found to be genuine refugees. Between 70 and 90 per cent have typically been found to be refugees, compared to around 40 to 50 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive with a valid visa.

Myth: No asylum application is ever refused, reasonable or unreasonable.
Fact: Asylum applications are frequently refused.

In 2012-13, for example, the visa grant rate for asylum seekers who arrived by plane was 48.4%, meaning that over half of all applications were refused. Incidentally, the grant rate for asylum seekers who arrived by boat was 88.0%, meaning that these asylum seekers were actually far more likely to have valid protection claims.

Myth: Immigration detention facilities, such as the facility on Christmas Island, are comparable to luxury hotels or holiday resorts.
Fact: High-security immigration detention centres are comparable to prisons, with the Christmas Island facility being one of the worst examples. Conditions in hotels used as "alternative places of detention" can hardly be described as luxurious.

The high-security detention facility on Christmas Island resembles a high-security prison with high wire fences, walkways enclosed in cage-like structures, CCTV surveillance and metal grills on detainees’ bedroom windows.

While hotels are sometimes used as “alternative places of detention” for vulnerable groups such as families, children and unaccompanied minors, conditions in these facilities can hardly be described as luxurious. Asylum seekers detained in these facilities face overcrowding, cramped conditions, lack of recreation space for children and inadequate access to facilities and services. After visiting the Asti Motel, a former “alternative place of detention” in Darwin, the Australian Human Rights Commission described the facility as “the most restrictive of the detention facilities in Darwin in terms of the amount of open space” – even compared to the high-security Northern Immigration Detention Centre. The Commission recommended that the Australian Government stop using the Asti Motel as a place of detention as soon as possible. The Government subsequently announced that the motel would no longer be used as an immigration detention facility.

Regardless of where they are detained, asylum seekers in detention have limited access to legal counsel, interpreting services, communication facilities, physical and mental health services and social, cultural and religious support networks. The indefinite and often prolonged nature of immigration detention has been shown to cause and exacerbate mental health issues, particularly amongst people who have suffered torture and trauma.

Myth: Terrorists, drug smugglers, mass murderers and other criminals can be granted refugee status.
Fact: Providing asylum is not about harbouring criminals – it is about protecting people from persecution.

The UN Refugee Convention specifically excludes people who have committed crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity or serious non-political crimes from refugee status. Such people cannot therefore be recognised as refugees or granted asylum.

Myth: Refugees are “lucky winners in the easiest game on earth”.
Fact: It is outrageous to claim that refugees are “lucky” people who have been through an “easy” experience.

To be granted refugee status, refugees have to demonstrate that they have fled persecution. They have been forced to leave behind their homes, most or all of their belongings and often their family members. Many have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated. The journey to safety is fraught with hazard and many refugees risk their lives in search of protection. To describe people who have been through such horrific experiences as “lucky” and to liken the process of seeking asylum to a “game” is ridiculous and reprehensible.

Please note that the figures on Centrelink payment rates quoted above are current as at February 2014 and are subject to change. For the latest payment rates, visit http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/dhs/centrelink.  

The Scherger Immigration Detention Centre e-mail

This e-mail makes a series of blatantly false claims about conditions in Scherger Immigration Detention Centre and the behaviour of asylum seekers currently detained there. A selection of these claims is refuted below as a general indicator of the e-mail’s inaccuracy. This e-mail is obviously intended to create resentment towards asylum seekers and, given the inaccuracies cited below, is clearly a falsified account of conditions at the facility.

Myth: All of the detainees at the Scherger detention centre are being accepted into Australia.
Fact: It is not possible to make this claim because applications of the detainees at Scherger are still being assessed.

An asylum seeker, by definition, is a person who has sought protection as a refugee but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been assessed. Therefore, it is not possible to claim that the applications of the asylum seekers detained in the Scherger facility have been accepted or rejected, as their claims are still being processed.

In fact, if it had been confirmed that the asylum seekers detained at Scherger were being accepted into Australia – that is, they had been found to be refugees and had passed all necessary health, identity and security checks – they would no longer be held in detention.

Myth: Asylum seekers in detention receive a pension and hardship allowance, the sum of which is double the amount received by age pensioners.
Fact: Asylum seekers in detention do not receive any form of financial assistance.

Some asylum seekers who are living in the community may be eligible for financial assistance if they are experiencing financial hardship, but this allowance is not available to asylum seekers in detention. If asylum seekers living in the community do receive financial assistance (and many do not), the assistance received is well below any form of Centrelink benefit including the age pension.

Myth: Asylum seekers in detention receive $50.00 a day for spending money.
Fact: Detainees in the Scherger facility do not receive cash payments.

Detainees can receive credits with a nominal value of up to $50.00 per week for use in a canteen-style facility, to purchase additional products for personal use (such as snacks) over and above their basic needs being met. Detainees cannot accumulate these credits nor can they convert them into cash.

Myth: One quarter of a tonne of chicken a day alone is cooked at the Scherger Detention Centre.
Fact: This claim is false.

According to the Department of Immigration, the figure quoted here “bears no resemblance to the truth”.

Myth: Detainees at the Scherger detention centre refuse to pick up their own rubbish and there have been “massive disputes” because detainees “didn’t like the radio station” and “batteries were flat for the Nintendo games.”
Fact: These claims are false.

According to the Department of Immigration, “experience to date indicates the detainees do pick up after themselves, and do keep their living space and common areas clean.” The Department has also stated that “reports of disputes over a radio station are without foundation” and “reports of flat batteries for Nintendos are not accurate”.

 

Last updated May 2014